Sunday, February 28, 2016

Your Lord Sustains You in Faith

Third Sunday in Lent
February 28, 2016
We pray that those who do not believe in Jesus will repent and believe in Him. We pray also that those who do believe will continue to humbly confess their sins and hold fast to the unchangeable truth of God’s Word. We pray for those who have faith and and those who do not. Those who have no faith reject God’s love in Jesus Christ. Those who do have faith recognize that it is purely by the glory of God in being merciful and gracious to them.

This is what is shown us God’s Word. The man in the Gospel reading was granted liberation from the demon who possessed him by the action of Jesus, not by his own action. The man was held captive by the power of Satan and was released by the power of God. The demon that possessed him rendered him unable to speak. When Jesus released him from his bondage his mouth was released as well and he spoke.

This is testament to the power God in our lives. It shows what faith is. Faith cannot help but speak. It is that which is given by God and proclaims the power of God, not the power of self. The man spoke and surely did not speak of his own ability or power or worthiness. He was able to speak because Jesus gave him the ability to speak.

But it is sad that the ability to speak does not always flow from faith. The words we speak are not always reserved for the object of faith, giving praise and glory to God for His salvation in His Son. No sooner had the man been released from his demon possession than some who witnessed it spoke against Christ. “Some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,’ while others, to test Him, kept seeking from Him a sign from heaven.” These two responses to Jesus were not of faith but of unbelief.

The good and gracious work of Jesus in giving the man new life was met with hostility—He casts out demons by Satan himself. What ought to have been a glorious display to them of the power of God and His love was met with derision. Some were seeking a sign from heaven. I’m not sure what else they were wanting to see. Delivering a person from demon possession is a work that the God of heaven does. What ought to have been a clear sign from heaven brought about in the person of Jesus Christ was met with disdain.

Jesus shows them the folly of their claim. “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” News flash! Satan does not want demons cast out of people! The whole point of demon possession is for the people to be overcome by the power of Satan. If he starts casting out the demons, how is he going to overcome those people? Satan does not work against himself.

Jesus then tells them what they really know but reject, that it is by the finger of God that He casts out demons. And, He says, if this is so, “then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” They are face to face with God almighty in the person of Jesus but they reject Him. The Kingdom of God has come to them. Jesus has come to bring the glorious reign of God to earth by giving salvation to people, delivering them from the bondage of Satan. He has come to grant faith to people, but it is agonizing to see that some simply do not want this gracious and merciful salvation.

Why is this? Why do some people not want the salvation God offers? Why do they not want to believe in Jesus who has come to deliver them from their sin and bondage to Satan? Jesus shows why. “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.” People by nature are under the rule of Satan. He is a strong man, fully armed, as Jesus describes him. He guards the palace of this world and the goods, the life people have, are safe. This is what people want. They are secure. They have what they want. They’re fine just the way they are.

But Jesus says that a stronger man comes and attacks the strong man. Jesus is the one who comes to the strong man and attacks him. Jesus is stronger than Satan. That is why it was so easy for Jesus to cast out the demon. But some people want to stay in their secure palace guarded by Satan. Jesus defeats Satan but people are already comfortable. They don’t like it that Jesus has come in, and as the stronger man, has rocked the boat. Reacting in unbelief instead of faith, they go back to Satan where he guards their palace.

Why is this appealing to them? Why would someone seek to remain under Satan’s dominion instead of the freeing realm of Christ? Because Jesus calls for faith. He calls for a penitent heart and steadfast faith. The Lord is the Lord who breaks into the kingdom of Satan and rescues us. When this happens those who harden themselves to His salvation do not see the amazing freedom of humbly rejoicing in pure grace. They do not see that Jesus lifts the burden of guilt and separates sin from us as far as the east is from the west. They do not see that a life of faith is not burdensome but joyful.

They think that God replaces the dominion of Satan with laws and commandments and burdens. They think new life in Christ is not fulfilling. They want to be the master of their own life, not realizing that Satan is the real master of their life. But God does not save us only to burden us with laws and commands and burdens. He saves us and then gives us more and more good. If it is true that we are to keep His commands—and it is—then we see through the eyes of faith, not the eyes of the world and the devil, that those commands He gives us benefit us. To our natural flesh the commands of God seem burdensome. But the evil spirit having been driven out of us, we see with new eyes by the power of the Holy Spirit. We see greater joy through the commands of God than we ever realized while under the dominion of Satan.

The apostle Paul calls this in the Epistle reading walking in love. He says, “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” It is not a burden to love others but a joy. This is nothing else than what the commands of God are all about. He fulfilled them and suffered our punishment for not fulfilling them. Instead of being sexually immoral, we rejoice in the gift of marriage. Instead of coveting, we rejoice in the good gifts God has already granted to us. This is how the Epistle reading speaks of the commands of God and the new life we have in Christ.

This is why Jesus says in the Gospel reading, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” In your Baptism Jesus came rushing into your life through the waters that flooded over you. This powerful flood drowned Satan and his dominion over you. Your Lord gave you new life and you were now a child of God. The Holy Spirit marked you as a new creation and created faith in you. You now were embarking on a new life, one in which you hear the Word of God and keep it. One in which you rejoice at God’s Word and not the word of Satan and of the world and of your own sinful flesh.

Satan cannot claim you. You were drowned in those waters of Baptism and were brought to life that does not end. It lasts forever and you are in the realm of the Heavenly Father who is merciful and gracious and who keeps giving you His Son over and over again through the Gospel and through the Sacraments to attack Satan and bind that strong man. Your Lord, the very Son of God who brought Satan to crushing defeat by dying in your stead, sustains you in the faith first given you in Baptism. Your Lord casts out the one who had power over you. You were given a new voice—the voice of faith. Faith that speaks of the glories of the mercies of God. Faith that speaks thanksgiving at hearing again and again of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Amen.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Prayer—simple, yet profound

Midweek in Lent2
February 24, 2016
As we contemplate the Gospel during Lent we see that our Lord blesses us in a simple way. It is the Gospel. The Gospel is simple, as we have seen. We saw our need for the Gospel in the Law, which condemns us of our sinfulness. And we saw the salvation our Lord gives in the Gospel. Jesus died on the cross for the sin of the world and that saves us from the condemnation of the Law. It is so simple that it might seem there’s not much to it.

There is, in fact, a lot to it. Even as the Gospel is simple it is also profound. The Law, which condemns us, also is used by God to guide us in the new life we have in Christ. The Law is more profound than in simply condemning us. The Gospel, even as it is simple, is profound in that we can never exhaust the glory of it. The more you look at who God is and what He has done in His Son, the more you see the mystery of grace and mercy to human beings who don’t deserve it. The Gospel is beyond compare and truly profound.

One aspect of its profoundness is the life we live in Christ. When we are saved by our Lord we are given new life. The new life we live is in response to the grace God gives us. Prayer is the natural response of the Christian to God’s grace. When someone loves us, we respond. When they help us we thank them. Relationships mean communication. We talk with those we love and know. With God, we talk to Him, we thank Him, we praise Him. Prayer really is that simple. The new life we have in Christ is marked by prayer.

And our Lord even helps us out here. He gives us words to say. “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name…’” The words of the Lord’s Prayer are some of the most well-known and well-loved words among Christians. There are few words from Scripture people know by heart, but these are ones that Christians from young to old know well. They are simple words given to His people for the simple act of praying. God loves us and so we pray to Him according to His will.

It’s amazing, though, how difficult we often make prayer. Sometimes we think we have to pray from the heart. Sometimes we think that we need to leave it up to the pastor. Sometimes we think that our prayers need to be about high and holy things and not ordinary things. Sometimes we think that prayer is only prayer if you are speaking the words. Of if you’re folding your hands and closing your eyes. Prayer is as simple as talking to God. Even if you can’t think of a whole lot of words to say, you can still speak to Him. and you can do so whether you are speaking the words out loud or in your mind. You can speak what is on your mind and you can use a prayer book. Prayer is simple. Too often we make it difficult.

Prayer is a blessing from God. As we have seen with God’s love, His blessings not only are simple, they are also profound. This is with prayer as well. Prayer is profound, beyond what we could ever capture in simply speaking some words to God. If we struggle with prayer or it seems difficult, the problem is not with prayer and not with its being profound. It is because by nature we don’t pray to Him. It is because our sinful nature does not pray to God according to His will but according to the sinful will.

If you have difficulty praying, pray as the man did in the first reading this evening: “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Pray in the humility of knowing that you don’t know the words to pray for on your own. Pray in the humility of seeing that in the words of the Lord’s Prayer are not just a few things to pray for but a gold mine of petitions for every need you have. Even as the prayer our Lord has taught us is simple to pray, we can never master it. There is so much more there than the asking of God for a few things.

In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus has shown us that we are invited to know who God is and that He desires nothing else than to give us everything that is for our good. We are invited to see and to know that in telling us that God is our Father then that means we are His children and children are bold to go to their father for all of their needs. We see that His name is holy and therefore He will give us what is good and perfect through His holy Son. We see that His Kingdom comes and that we ought to seek that it come among us, that we receive every blessing of forgiveness, life, and salvation. We see that His good and gracious will not only is always done but that we are exhorted to pray that it would be done among us so that we may know that whatever happens to us, God will work through it for our ultimate good.

We see in the Lord’s Prayer that God blesses us in body soul. Jesus might have listed many things to pray for that we need in this earthily life but He used one thing to show us that God gives us is what we need: bread. And we are invited to pray that we receive it daily, not worrying about tomorrow, but entrusting each day to God to give us what we need.

What makes prayer so profound is that our communication with God flows from His communication with us. We are worthy to pray because we are forgiven. So we pray that God would continue to forgive us and that we would rejoice in forgiving others. We pray that God would defend us from temptation and deliver us from evil.

What Jesus invites us to pray to our Father in heaven for is beyond what we would think to pray for on our own, except for the things we need in this life. The abundant blessings of the other petitions are eternal. We need them all the time and He gives them to us all the time.

Some people may wonder why prayer is all that necessary, then. The answer to that is given by the apostle Paul who says in 1Thessalonians 5 to pray constantly. How do you pray constantly? You are called by God to serve Him and others in many ways, how do you pray when you are doing that? How do you pray when you’re asleep and your conscious mind is not in control?

You live the new life God has given you in Christ. Praying without ceasing is living as God has called you to live. In everything you do, your life is a prayer offered up to God because of His Son who offered up Himself as the sacrifice for all of your sins. In Romans 12 we are exhorted to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship.” If you think of prayer as simply the words you say to God then you are not seeing prayer fully for what it is. The prayer our Lord has given us does not just tell us the words to say but also the life to live. We live under our Father’s grace. We live according to His will. We entrust ourselves to His care in body and soul. We live because we are forgiven and therefore freed up to forgive others. We live in the sound confidence that our Father will deliver us from evil.

In the Lord’s Prayer we see that we’re not just praying for certain things that we need. The Lord’s Prayer encompasses all of our needs in this life and eternally. That is why prayer, even though it is so simple, is so profound. When you have new life in Christ your whole life is a prayer. Certainly that means we ask our Father for help in time of need. It also means giving thanks to Him for all His blessings. And it means as well that everything we do is in loving service to Him. We do not live to ourselves but to Him. We are His children, He is our Heavenly Father. He loves us, His dear children, and we, His dear children, respond in love to Him. Amen.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Your Lord Defends You from All Adversities

Second Sunday in Lent
February 21, 2016
Your Lord defends you from all adversities. That sounds great, doesn’t it? It’s what we want. It’s what we prayed moments ago in the Collect of the Day, “defend us from all adversities that may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts that my assault and hurt the soul.” We would like to believe that our Lord does this.

Even if you actually believe it, it doesn’t seem like it, does it? There are plenty of adversities in life. Is our Lord defending us against them? If we are beset by adversities, how, exactly, is He defending us from them? Being a Christian does not prevent you from injury, illness, or even death. Even though you’re a Christian, it doesn’t mean that you can never fall away from the faith. We know too well that those who believe in Jesus face adversity in both body and soul.

One thing we do know about His defending us of all adversity is that it doesn’t mean removal of adversity. So what does it mean? How does our Lord defend you from all adversity? A promise is a promise and He has promised to do this. A prayer is a prayer and we have prayed that He will do this.

In the Gospel reading we meet a woman who faced intense adversity. There are few things that match the heartbreak a parent experiences in seeing their children suffering. This woman was suffering because she was powerless against the spiritual assault on her daughter. Though she was a Canaanite, a pagan, she had heard about Jesus. She knew who He was. Matthew doesn’t tell us how she had heard about Jesus. But we do know that she comes to Jesus in faith. The only way she had such faith was by the Holy Spirit. Though she believed in false gods, the Holy Spirit was turning her heart and mind to the true God and that is why she went to His Son in her adversity.

She cried out to Him. When we are in need we seek help. We cry out for help. We agonize over our turmoil. This woman had no one else to turn to, no one else who could help. She goes to Jesus and each time she speaks to Him she calls Him “Lord.” “Have mercy on Me, Lord, Son of David.” Have mercy on me is the cry of faith. Faith looks to Jesus as Lord. In the epistle reading Paul speaks of Gentiles as those who do not know God. It’s remarkable, then, how well this Gentile woman knew Jesus. She knew Him as Lord. She knew Him as the one you approach with the cry of faith, the plea for mercy.

The cry of faith pleads to the Lord in the face of adversity. God the Holy Spirit brought this woman to faith, one who, as Paul described, had not known God. Now she was approaching the Lord of life, the one true God, in the person of Jesus. Have mercy on me. How does the Lord defend you? He gives you mercy. When the storms of adversity assail us, what we need is mercy. That is what our Lord provides.

Except that, it doesn’t always seem like it, does it? Does He really have mercy on us? Does He really defend us from all adversity? How many times have you heard people say they prayed but the Lord did not answer their prayer? How many times have you felt that yourself? Well, this is what happened to this woman. She pleaded for mercy and the Lord did not answer her a word. At the very least, we think of that as rude. But more importantly, she knew who He was. She pleaded for the very thing He had come to give. But He ignores her. How is this Jesus defending her from her adversity?

And then it seems that other things get in the way. We are struggling, crying out to God, and then other things seem to prevent our prayers from being answered. In this case, the disciples perhaps picked up on Jesus’ silence and wanted to get rid of this woman. After all, she wasn’t Jewish, she wasn’t on the inside like they were. They asked Jesus to send her away. They didn’t want her crying out after them all day.

Fortunately, we know Jesus. We know He is compassionate, merciful, He has come for all. Fortunately, He is not afraid to the put His often dense disciples in their place. We know Jesus in the same way the woman did, and when the disciples make such a blunt request, we expect Jesus to turn to the woman and grant her mercy as she has asked.

The only problem is, He doesn’t do that. He actually agrees with the disciples! “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And He even had the audacity to say it loud enough where she could hear it. Again, rude at the least, very uncompassionate at the worst. How is this Jesus defending her from all adversity? How is this Jesus being God in the flesh, having mercy on those in need? How often do we feel the same? Our pleas with God met with silence sometimes, seeming rebuke at others?

Now the woman’s adversity has been ramped up. I imagine she thought things couldn’t have gotten worse than her daughter being demon-possessed, but now here they were. The very Lord she sought help from was the very Lord who was now dismissing her. When faced with adversity, often our faith falters. Where is God? Why isn’t He helping me? It is at this point that, instead of giving up, we ought to persist in our plea. At this point, what is called for is not giving up or dismissing God. What is called for is worship. The woman came before Jesus and bowed down before Him! This is a remarkable show of faith in the moment where she might have been most disgusted. Her plea was now simple, “Lord, help me.” This simple prayer of faith means, “Lord, I have no hope on my own to help my daughter. I know You can help her. I know this is who You are and what You came for. Please, help me.”

She has hit bottom. Everything is against her and she confesses to Jesus that He is her only hope. And so finally at this point, the Jesus we know, the Jesus she knew, comes through with flying colors. If He had been testing her before, He now knows that she really believes and that He has indeed come for everyone and so will grant her mercy; He will help her; He will heal her daughter.

Except that, He doesn’t. It’s as if she is in a nightmare, her daughter brutally afflicted, her finding the one person who can actually help her, but she is unable to attain the help she needs. Jesus ups the ante yet again: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” He is bound and determined to show her that she is not going to give what properly belongs to the chosen people of God to those who are pagans and have no regard for the true God.

This is the crux of adversity. We often think it is injury, or illness, or trials in life. We think, of course, of spiritual assaults, temptation, doubts, fears. It seems that the greatest adversity this woman is met with, though, is Jesus Himself! He is the one who is supposed to defend her from all adversity. How exactly does He do that? Is He even doing that?

The answer is yes. The question of how comes from the answer of the woman. Whether she was insulted by Jesus or exasperated or just plain weary, we don’t know. What we do know is that she persisted. She came to Him pleading to Him as “Lord,” and she wasn’t about to stop now. If He is the Lord, then He is the Lord. And it doesn’t matter what He says or how He says it or what it seems like that He is doing. I have come to Him for mercy, and that is what I will continue to ask Him for.

She says, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” The answer, then, is this: when you are faced with adversity, then you cry to your Lord for mercy. You pray to Him in faith, which means that whatever He gives you is what you need. Whatever He says to you is what you need to hear. Whatever form that mercy and help takes, even if it’s just crumbs, it is the most gracious, blessed gift you can receive from Him.

He praised her for her faith in the face of adversity. She gave her the very mercy she asked for. He conquered the evil spirit that had afflicted her daughter. This is what He had come for. He came to defend us from all adversities. We don’t know how this woman’s life continued on. We can only assume that she and her daughter continued to give thanks to the true God for the miraculous healing her daughter received.

Did the woman and her daughter later on know that the very Lord who helped them ended up facing adversity beyond what they could imagine? Did they know that this Lord they believed in was the true Lord and their very Lord because He conquered not just a demon but Satan Himself by dying on the cross for the sin of the world?  Her daughter’s demon possession was the result of sin. Jesus granted her mercy by taking away that sin in His suffering and death.

You know your Lord. He delivered you from Satan in your Baptism. The Holy Sprit gave you faith in Baptism just as He had given the Canaanite woman faith. You are Baptized, but you face adversities. You know your Lord defends you from them but it doesn’t always seem like it, does it? This why you follow the example of those who have gone before you. You cry out in faith, as the woman did. You pray your Lord defends you from all adversities, and you persist in it, pressing Him to do so. If it seems He doesn’t hear you, or doesn’t answer you, or dismisses you, don’t despair.

Rather, bow before Him here at this very altar where He gives you far more than just crumbs and says to you, “Great is your faith. Be it done to you as you believe. This is My body, given for you, this is My blood, shed for you. Your sins are forgiven.” Amen.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Gospel—simple, yet profound

Midweek in Lent1
February 17, 2016
During Lent we are contemplating the Gospel. The Bible is a good-sized book. And yet, the Gospel is simple. God loved the world in this way: He gave His only Son to die so that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life. The Gospel is not complicated. It is simple. It is God giving salvation in His Son to fallen people. Simple.

And yet, the very nature of the simplicity of the Gospel means that it is profound. We believe the Gospel but we can’t fully understand it. It is beyond our reason. We believe by faith, not only by understanding. The Gospel is vast. It can never be fully comprehended. The love of God is profound.

It is an aspect of the grace of God that we are not saved because we understand. How could one ever understand the love of God? The pure grace that He loves sinners, His own people who rejected Him? And that He Himself is the one who accomplishes our salvation? That He Himself is the one who received the punishment of eternal damnation in our place? This is beyond reason and something we could never begin to think of to ask for. By His grace, even though we can’t fathom such grace, we believe it because the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies us in the one true faith.

On Ash Wednesday we saw how the Law of God convicts us of our sin. By the Law we can never be saved. By the Law we come to the realization that we need to be saved. By the Law we are drawn to repentance. By the Law is paved the way for the Gospel. In the Catechism, then, that is what comes next, the Gospel.

It comes in the form of the Creed. The Apostles’ Creed is not found in the Bible. The phrases of it are taken from the Bible and based on the Bible. It is a distillation of the pure Gospel that is taught in the Bible. In the Creed we confess who God is. He is the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the one true God; three Persons in one God, one God in three Persons.

When we confess Him, we are confessing His work of salvation of us. God the Father sent the Son who sends the Holy Spirit. Jesus accomplished salvation in His suffering, death, and resurrection and the Holy Spirit brings that salvation directly to us in the proclaimed Gospel and the Sacraments administered to us. The Creed teaches us the utter simplicity of the Gospel. It teaches us that the God who reveals Himself to us in the Bible is the God who loves us so much that He saves us. He doesn’t make it a maze of obligations that we must do. He does it. It’s simple. He saves us, it’s not complicated.

It is very likely that the first creed of Christians was the three-word creed found in 1Corinthians 12:3, “Jesus is Lord.” God has made Himself known in a personal way, in His Son. He is Lord, no other person, no other god. As the Church continued to teach what it means that Jesus is Lord, it expanded the confession of faith to what we have in the Apostles’ Creed, He was conceived by the Holy Sprit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, He descended into hell, the third day He rose again from the dead, He ascended into heaven. He did all of this for sinners.

The more you meditate on what our Lord did the more you see the profoundness of the Gospel. When you confess, “Jesus is Lord,” as is written in 1Corinthinas 12, you are confessing all of what is stated in the Apostles’ Creed. It is truly profound that Jesus is God even as He became flesh. He was a man who lived and who suffered, died, and rose. He ascended bodily into heaven and continues to be flesh and blood even though He is fully God. It’s a mystery that is not meant to be comprehended but to be believed and rejoiced in.

The Gospel is profound. How could God love the people who chose to listen to Satan instead of Him? How could God continue to love us when we continue to sin against Him, acquiescing to temptations? Some people think it’s incomprehensible that God exists. If you see the Law of God for what it is, the truth, and that you fall completely short of it, then you will see that the truly incomprehensible thing is that God loves us.

The profoundness of the Gospel is not just in God loving us even though we don’t deserve it. It is also in making us aware of our need for salvation. We are by nature sinful and unclean. We sin against God in thought, word, and deed. That God brings the hammer of His Law down upon us is actually a gracious, loving act on His part. In the same way that we warn someone if they are about to harm themselves, God warns us of the harm we are in by our sinning against Him.

The confession of our sinful, fallen nature is that of what we hear in the first reading, “Jesus is accursed.” Paul says that this confession of faith is not of the Holy Spirit. It is of our own sinful flesh. But the Holy Spirit does produce in us a confession, “Jesus is Lord.” We are unable to make this confession of faith on our own. This is the profound nature of the Gospel. We not only are saved by God, we are brought to faith by God, and by His power we believe in Him.

In the Small Catechism, we confess this of the Third Article of the Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” This is what the apostle Paul was getting at in saying, “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Sprit.”

And so we see what it is the Holy Spirit brings to us. Faith in Christ. Belief in Jesus as Lord. The simplicity of the Gospel, Jesus is Lord, saving us by His suffering, death, and resurrection, is profound in that it cannot be contained in a simple formula. What it means that Jesus is Lord is that, from John 14, He is the way, the truth, and the life. From John 11, He is the resurrection and the life. From Psalm 103, In Him God has separated our sins from us as far as the east is from the west.

From Isaiah 53, He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted. It was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for guilt. He poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

From John 6, He is the bread of life. The Israelites ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. Jesus is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. He is the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that He will give for the life of the world is His flesh.

From Romans 3, All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.

From Ephesians 2, By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

From Acts 4, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who was crucified, whom God raised from the dead, is the stone that was rejected by the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

From Colossians 1, And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him.

From 1Corinthians 1, Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

From 1Peter 1, Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

From Galatians 2, You have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you. And the life you now live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself for you.

From 1John 4, In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

And from the second reading this evening, in 1Corinthians 15, Now I would remind you, brothers, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

This is our confession of faith and to it we say, “Amen.”


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Your Lord Leads You through this World to the World to Come

First Sunday in Lent
Commemoration of Valentine, Martyr
February 14, 2016
If you are certain that you have salvation and yet struggle with the daily grind of temptation and sin, then you have a sense of the tension of being a Christian. One is either saved or not. And for those who believe Jesus is Lord and believe that heaven is their home, it’s hard to come to terms with the weakness we experience in this life. How many times have you said the wrong thing to a loved one and wish you could take it back? How often do you feel emboldened to fight off temptation only to fall into it so easily before you’re even aware of it happening? How many times do you feel invigorated to take time to help others only to place your time and effort to more pressing matters?

If you recognize the struggle of these things and are uneasy about it, then you are seeing that being a Christian isn’t as easy as you might wish it to be. You are seeing that far from removing you from trials and unease you often find yourself struggling even more so. The Bible doesn’t help you out much here if you are looking to be relieved of this tension. The Bible actually goes out of the way to drive home the tension that characterizes the person who is saved and living new life in Christ.

That may not seem comforting. But there’s more comfort in this than there appears. In the Collect of the Day we prayed our Lord to lead us through this world to the world come. Heaven is indeed the destination, but it’s a long road there, isn’t it? It’s a difficult road. As you live you get closer and closer to the glory of the world to come, but along the way you endure the pain of heartbreak and the sting of loved ones and the guilt of hurting those you love. The road is long and in the tension of the now of full salvation but the not yet of the full glory of it.

It’s tempting to want to resolve this tension. But you know that’s not going to happen. In this life you will continue to sin and struggle against sin. The world will continue to entice you to the ways of fulfilling your desires. The devil will continue to attack you. When you die and are brought into the eternal glory of heaven, there will be no more tension. Instead of seeking to be rid of the tension, seek your Lord who will lead you through it and guide you. Getting rid of the tension won’t help anything, trusting in your Lord will.

On the First Sunday in Lent we are shown the way He deals with this tension. Jesus had not even begun His three years of ministry and He was led out into the desert to be tempted by the devil. It’s not that the devil just happened to tempt Jesus. This was a calculated action on the part of the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus had come on the scene to begin His three year ministry He did something that seemed not quit right. He went up to John the Baptist, who had been preaching and Baptizing, and asked John to Baptize Him. This is how Jesus was ordained into His ministry. He who had no sin was Baptized in order to fulfill all righteousness. He went down into those Baptismal waters in solidarity with us. The heavens were opened and the Holy Sprit descended on Him. The voice of the Heavenly Father spoke, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

This is where you see the tension of your life in Christ. It was exhibited by Him. In your Baptism, the Heavenly Father declared you to be His beloved son, His beloved daughter. In your Baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon you and gave you new life in Christ. And then you know what happened? You were led out into the wilderness of this world where you are tempted by the devil. Satan has it out for you because you are a child of God. Your Baptism is a mark on you and what the devil sees is a bulls eye.

What is happening to you, though, isn’t anything new. Jesus Himself endured this. No sooner was Jesus Baptized, the Holy Sprit descending on Him, the Father declaring Him His beloved Son, than the Holy Spirit led Him out into the desert to be tempted by the devil. This, of course, was fine by Satan. He jumped at this chance to take Jesus down. And it worked well for him that Jesus decided to fast during the forty days He was out there. A person in a weakened state is a prime target for the cunning tactics of the devil.

Satan knew who Jesus was. He had heard the statement of the Father to His Son, “This is My beloved Son.” So that’s a good place to start. He said to Jesus, “So, if You are the Son of God, then tell these stones to become bread. That should be easy enough of a solution to being hungry and needing food. If you’re the Son of God You should be able to easily do it. This is an opportunity to prove You are who Your Father says You are. If You’re the Son of God, why should You go hungry and stay in this weakened state?”

But Satan can never stand against the one who trusts in the Lord. Jesus was indeed the Son of God. But far from wanting to be removed from the tension and the trial of fasting and being tempted by Satan, Jesus embraced it. He fully trusted in His Heavenly Father. That His Father was well-pleased with Him didn’t mean He would remove Him from the tension of living in this world. So Jesus entrusted Himself to His Father’s will. He relied solely on His Father’s word.

Jesus answered Satan, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” It’s really simple. It’s so plain that it seems it cannot be misunderstood. So that’s not really the problem we run into. We can understand it easily enough, but the problem is that it’s hard. Yes, we live not by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. That you so often succumb to temptation shows how difficult this is. This tension is always there, between doing what God would have you do and what you see is so enticing, what the devil would have you do. Jesus shot down Satan with the simple Word of God. The hunger pains rebelled even more and His body got weaker by the moment, but Jesus entrusted Himself to His Father.

But Satan is not easily dissuaded. He comes back at Jesus, but with a different tactic. “Okay, I get it, You are the Son of God. I believe. You don’t need to do some silly miracle to prove it. And, yes, what You say is true, You should not go by your stomach but by what Your beloved Father tells you. So, here’s an opportunity to do just that. I’m helping You out here. You entrust Yourself to Your Father, so go by what He Himself says in the Bible. Cast Yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you and their hands will bear you up, so that your foot will not strike against a stone.’ This would be a great way for You to show that You trust Your Father who loves You and has promised to protect You.”

Well, just because you quote the Bible doesn’t mean you’re getting it right. Satan knew the Scriptures, no doubt, but he used them by twisting them so that he could get people to fall into sin. It’s what he did with Adam and Eve and it’s what he was doing now with Jesus. But Jesus knows that Scripture cannot go against itself, and so He once again responded to Satan with the Word of God: “It is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Once again, it’s really simple. You go to the Word of God and you take it as it stands, not twisting it for what you would like to make it say. And yet, once again, as simple as it is, it is hard. Entrust yourself to God, but don’t test Him. He will certainly protect you, but that doesn’t mean you should put Him to the test.

Being undaunted, Satan attempts one more thing. Taking yet another approach, He attacks Jesus where He seems to be most vulnerable. He’s God, but because He became flesh, being born of a woman, growing up into adulthood, and being in fact unequal to the Father in regard to His human nature, He is susceptible to the desire for glory, what is beyond what you have. So Satan takes Jesus to a place where He can see all the kingdoms of the world in all their glory. This can all be His if He will do the slightest of things and bow down in worship to Satan. It doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to be forever, just one small act of worship and Jesus will no longer have to suffer the needs of ordinary people. He will have glory that everyone will see is worthy of the Son of God.

At this, Jesus shuts Him down, “Be gone, Satan! It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’” If Jesus will entrust Himself to His Father, He will do so in all things. The only glory He wishes to receive is the glory of His Father carrying out His will in His beloved Son. Jesus will walk this path of the tension of this life. He will defeat Satan with a weapon that is so simple even as it is powerful. Jesus will respond to Satan’s attacks with the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. And when it is time for Him to suffer on the cross for the sin of the world, He knows that it will crush Satan. Salvation will have been accomplished, and it will not have been through some display of glorious proof that He is the Son of God but through the glorious display of His pouring out His blood for the life of the world.

You will not reach the glories of the world to come by living a good life. Being rid of trials and temptations will not be a sign that you have achieved the life you were meant to.

You will reach the glories of the world to come, though, through the Heavenly Father having declared to you in your Baptism that you are His beloved son, you are His beloved daughter. You will be welcomed into heaven and be freed from the tension, the sorrow, the trial, the temptation of this life because your Lord leads you through the wilderness of this world to the glory of the one that is to come. You know He will do this because He Himself has gone through it before you. Amen. 


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Law—simple, yet profound

Ash Wednesday
Commemoration of Silas, Fellow Worker of Peter and Paul
February 10, 2016
During Lent we will contemplate the Gospel. The Gospel is simple. What could be more simple? God loves us and He saves us. There is no need to make the Gospel difficult. No need to add to it or complicate it. It is simple. It is exactly what it appears. It is the love of God in His Son for sinners. The Gospel is simple.

And yet, the Gospel is profound. Something doesn’t need to be complicated to be profound. It is doesn’t need to be difficult to understand to be profound. It is simple, it is what it appears to be. And yet, there is more to it than meets the eye. It is deep and rich and profound. The love of God is vast. The love of God is profound.

The Gospel is the answer to what plagues us. Guilt is the order of the day. The apostle Paul almost despaired of this fact, “Oh, wretched man that I am.” If there’s any day that has a pulse on the guilt we own it is Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a fitting beginning to the season of Lent. Lent is a time of repentance, of contemplation of our sin and our guilt. Of our inability, and even resistance, to love the will of God rather than the desires of our own sinful flesh.

Yes, Ash Wednesday goes right to the heart of things, and it does so by going for the jugular. If you saw the Super Bowl commercial with Helen Mirren lambasting those who drink and drive you got a sense of the direct rebuke of the Law upon someone who is guilty. I was joking after Bible Class yesterday that preachers can learn from Helen Mirren on how to preach the Law. But I was only half joking. If you haven’t seen the commercial, go online and watch it and see if you can do so without squirming a little, whether you’re guilty of that crime or not. I once witnessed in a courtroom a judge who blasted out the defendent on what kind of behavior he expected of her and I was convicted, even though I hadn’t done anything wrong!

This is the way the Law of God works. The Law is simple. It tells you exactly what God’s will is. It shows you that you shall have no other gods because there is nothing good in anyone or anything else for eternal life with Him. The Law of God is His perfect, holy will. When presented to us, though, we are shown our guilt. The Law is as simple as that, it shows us our sin and our guilt. Hopefully at least one person who drinks and drives was convicted by that tirade from Helen Mirren. Hopefully at least one person repented of that sin and will no longer do it. The Law is not meant to ream you out just to make you feel bad. It is meant to expose your guilt and drive you to repentance. It is that simple.

And yet, it is profound. Think about it, how much love are you showing someone to leave them in a sin that is harmful to them and to others? When you bring the Law to bear on someone you are loving them. You are helping them. You are taking a step to bring them to the point where they no longer continue in that behavior and then they are not only blessed themselves but are also loving others by not carrying out that sin. God’s will is good and gracious, and that’s why He brings the Law to bear on us.

It is a profound thing that the very thing that cuts us to the heart is the very thing that is a gracious act of God to make us aware that we are guilty and dead in our sin and guilt.  He loves us so much that He will not leave us drowning in our condemnation. He cannot bear to see us die in our sin and be lost forever.

This is one of the marks of the Christian Church, the preaching of the Law. Any church that is not condemning sinners of the their sin is dangerously close to not being Christian. If what is heard from the pulpits of Christian churches leaves people satisfied in their own efforts rather than coming to the awareness that they are wretched and so soiled in their heart with sin, then those people are hearing a false Gospel.

There is one who has kept the Law of God perfectly and it is our Lord Jesus Christ. He aligned His will with His Heavenly Father. He did not entertain temptation but clung to the Word of God. He did not desire His own will but His Father’s will. He rejoiced in loving people even to the point of dying for them. No one ought to be made to feel or think that they are fine the way they are. That is pure modern-day humanism. We are not fine the way we are! We are wretched and live in a body of death. We are dust and ashes. We are utterly caught up in sin and stand guilty before God. Not just partially. Not just not as much as others. Fully guilty, fully condemned, and fully without power to remove ourselves from this wretched state.

Jesus quotes the Old Testament, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and says of that, “This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it”: (and then quotes the Old Testament again) “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” His interpretation of these two commandments is this: “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

So here is the question for you this evening as you begin this season of Lent. As you prepare to celebrate the great victory of Easter. As you ponder the Passion of your Lord Jesus Christ, His suffering and death. As you take extra time out of your week each week for six weeks in meditating on the Word of God.

How do you see the Law and the Prophets, that is, the entire Old Testament, as depending on these two commandments?

It is the crucial question. Because here you see how utterly simple the Law is and how amazingly profound it is. Here you see which way you are going to go with the Law. Whether you will go the way of the world and the way that is so natural to your own sinful nature or the way of your Lord Jesus Christ. Whether you will see in Jesus’ statement a call to look within yourself and do what God requires of you or a call to repentance and a complete despairing of your own ability and will to live as God calls you to live. Whether you will see yourself as good enough for God to love you or seeing that He condemns you by His holy Law except for the gift He has given you in His Son who fulfilled the Law you could not and suffered the punishment you deserve.

The sad state of affairs in the world and too often in the Church is that we do not want to hear the condemning judgment of the Law but rather want to see ourselves not in wretchedness but as doing pretty well, considering all. Sadly, so often we look inward to strive to obey God’s will. To often we do not see that there is nothing but sin and guilt. It is an illusion that we can obey God’s will of our own power!

The Ten Commandments, all simply and directly stated, leave no room for this. You have other gods, you do not love your neighbor as yourself. Everything the Word of God depends on—you have fallen short, you are found wanting. Who will rescue you from this body of death?

It may seem there’s no good news here. But the words of Christ are profound. The very thing God demands of us in His Law, the Ten Commandments, our Lord Himself fulfilled. He did what you could not and have not. He did this for you. And because you are still found in your guilt, He suffered the punishment for your guilt in your place. It is simple even as it is profound. Your Lord does not direct you to the Ten Commandments to whip you into shape but to drive you to despairing of your own works and to repenting of them and of your sin and guilt. In this repentance is found an astonishing thing. Hope! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ! Thanks be to God that in repentance we see not ourselves but our Lord in all His glory and grace and love for us in suffering, dying, and rising for us. Amen.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Blinded by Sight

February 7, 2016
 Seeing is believing, right? Someone tells you an amazing thing and you can’t bring yourself to believe it. You have to see it for you to believe it. You can’t know it until you know it for yourself. Sometimes taking the word of another person isn’t enough for us. We have to see to believe.

And so it was with the disciples. They weren’t much different from us, we’re not much different from them. Jesus spoke to them often of who He was, what He had come to do. He was clear in why He had come and what specifically would happen to Him. But they continued to not get it. They continued to not believe.

In the Gospel reading Jesus says to them that they are going up to Jerusalem where everything that was written in the prophets concerning the Son of Man would be fulfilled. Now, they knew the Scriptures. They knew what the prophets had prophesied. They knew Jesus was the Son of Man, the messiah promised in the Old Testament. And yet, their faith was lacking. They didn’t believe that the promises would be fulfilled in the way Jesus said they would.

Handed over to the Gentiles. Mocked, shamefully treated, spit upon. Being flogged and then actually killed. Even the part about after three days being raised from the dead didn’t register with them. How could the prophecies of the Old Testament be fulfilled in Jesus if He was going to His death? The Gospel reading says that they didn’t understand anything Jesus was saying to them. The saying was hidden from them and they didn’t grasp what He was saying.

They were blinded. Jesus was spelling it out clearly, but they couldn’t see it. They weren’t able to comprehend the clear Gospel message of the suffering and death and resurrection of the one they were putting their hope in. Their eyes were blinding them. Their insistence on trying to grasp this, to make sense of it, was clouding the clear picture of a Savior who got down in the muck of sin and dealt with that sin by putting it to death in His own.

You can well imagine that when the moment actually came and they were seeing Jesus with their own eyes being beaten and mocked and hanging on the cross, slowly dying, that their eyes saw only their Master who was now coming to an end. What they were seeing did not appear to them as fulfillment of the Old Testament but a tragic loss.

But what their eyes saw was exactly what Jesus had said would be seen. They were blinded by sight. They were unable to grasp that Jesus dying on the cross was good news. It was the Gospel itself. This is why Jesus had told them beforehand.

On His way to Jerusalem He came to a town called Jericho and there was a beggar on the side of the road. He was blind so obviously couldn’t see what was going on. But he heard. He heard the commotion of a crowd of people going by. What was going on? What was he missing? When he was told that Jesus of Nazareth was going by he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

This is the cry of faith. It is true understanding, true knowing of who Jesus is. It is seeing Jesus not by sight but by faith. Jesus had spelled it all out for the disciples and they didn’t get it. They just couldn’t see it happening, it made no sense. The blind man, however, he heard. They spoke to him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by and he believed in Him. He wasn’t going on sight, he couldn’t see. He wasn’t questioning the people who told him, he simply believed.

And so, when Jesus had given the man his sight, He said to him, “Your faith has saved you.” The man was granted mercy by Jesus not because he calculated the likelihood of it being true. He wasn’t blessed by Jesus because he understood Jesus any better than the disciples did. He was granted his plea because he believed in Jesus. The blind man was the one who could truly see, whereas the disciples, whose eyes worked just fine, were the ones who were blind.

Why do you suppose when Jesus told them He was going to suffer and die and rise He didn’t just tell them, “Hey guys, this is going to happen, you’re going to have to be prepared for it”? Why was it that He made a distinct point of saying that these things would happen as fulfillment of the Scriptures? It is because faith comes by hearing. A follower of Christ does not have faith because he sees. It’s not because he’s got it all figured out and understands the mysteries of God becoming flesh and suffering and dying and miraculously rising from the grave. A person has faith because he has heard.

The apostle Paul says in Romans 10 that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. This is exactly what happened to the blind man. He heard the proclamation of Jesus of Nazareth and he believed. The disciples heard it too but their faith was not right. They didn’t hear this Word of Christ as the simple, blessed Gospel that it was. They wanted to make Jesus their Savior in their own image. As one who didn’t have to suffer and didn’t have to die. They were blinded by their sight.

Early on in the Christian Church there was this struggle between what is seen and what is not seen. In the Old Testament it was commanded that God’s people be circumcised. Shouldn’t Gentiles being converted to Christianity be circumcised just as the Jews were? After the resurrection of Christ and the enlightening day of Pentecost Peter now understood that salvation was not through a neatly-wrapped method but by the work of Jesus in suffering, dying, and rising. So what he said to the people who were struggling with what they saw with their eyes, namely, that you have to fulfill the command of God in order to be saved, was this, from Acts 15:

And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the Gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us, and He made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.”

Is anything different today? Do we still look for God to show us His love before we will believe it? When things we take for granted in life begin to unravel do we question God’s power and His love for us? Do we have to see it before we will believe it? How many people look around in the world and see a messed up world instead of seeing the loving stamp of God and therefore do not believe in Him? How often do we ourselves call His Fatherly care for us into question because we struggle through trials?

We need to see as the blind man did and not as the disciples did. We need to see with the eyes of faith not the eyes of the mind. We need to come to be at peace with the truth of what the apostle Paul says in 2Corinthians 5, that we walk by faith, not by sight. We need to rest in the promise of God, that, as He says in Isaiah 55,

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

This is the beauty of faith. It is the great blessing God gives to us that His saving us doesn’t rest upon us. True faith does not look to itself. It doesn’t rely on the act or the desire of mustering up enough faith. It clings to Christ. It doesn’t look to ourselves but to the one who came to fulfill all that was written in the prophets, our Lord who was delivered over, was mocked and beaten, and who suffered, died, and was raised. Faith doesn’t try to figure it all out or wonder about God, whether He is going to get on track with us, but simply rests in the promise, as Paul says it in the Epistle reading, “Then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

When we live by faith we live by the promises of our Lord, not by sight. We don’t look at Baptism and believe what we see but what we don’t see. We believe that in that very water connected with the Word of Christ is new, eternal, and abundant life. We look at the bread and wine our Lord offers us in His meal and don’t give thanks for what we see but rather what we don’t see, the body our Lord gave over on the cross now given to us and the blood He shed on the cross now offered to us for the forgiveness of our sins.

Otherwise we are blind. We see only what we want to see. Living by faith is living as a blind beggar, crying out for mercy, believing your Lord will give you mercy. Resting not in your sight but the faith given you in Baptism, which clings to your Lord and His promises and His salvation. Amen. 


Monday, February 1, 2016

Is God Beyond Us?

Image result for outer spaceYes. God by nature is beyond us.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t know Him. He is beyond us but He comes to us. We can know Him because He makes Himself known to us.

When we think of God we think of surpassing glory and power. We naturally don’t think of God as one who would:

® be conceived in the womb of an ordinary woman

® be born of that ordinary woman

® be born in a stable

® be cared for and fed and nurtured as He grew

® be submissive and obedient to earthly parents

® carry out a ministry that was consigned to a small and insignificant area of the planet

® call into ministry some pretty ordinary men

® be hungry, tired, and humbly living in prayerful submission to His Father

® suffer ridicule, beating, and crucifixion

® suffer for sin, guilt, and unbelief

® die

® be laid in a tomb and remain there three days

® rise from death.

The last one fits with our notion of God as glorious and powerful, but even so, in order to rise it means you have to die.

We wouldn’t think of God as doing these things. He is beyond us. We wouldn’t think of Him coming to us. We wouldn’t expect God to be conceived, born, live, suffer, die, and rise. We wouldn’t expect Him to do all of this for us.

But He did.